Monday, September 3, 2012
Luna Moth Life Cycle
The ETNHC staff are rearing Luna Moth caterpillars for school teachers in Wood and Harris Counties. The caterpillars have hatched from a batch of 143 eggs that were laid by a female Luna Moth captured on July 27, 2012.
The female was captured on the Jarvis Christian College campus during a night time habitat sampling expedition on July 27, 2012.She was carefully placed into an envelope so she could be shown at a moth lighting event scheduled for the following evening near Quitman, TX. While confined she began to lay eggs inside the envelope. She eventually deposited a total of 143 eggs - 108 of which hatched. The caterpillars are being reared in Spring, Texas.
The caterpillars start out as tiny ova which are housed in small containers until they hatch. Each caterpillar on hatching is tiny, typically about 1/8 of an inch in total length. The caterpillars will shed their skin as they grow through 5 stages (called instars) to make room for their enormous growth. When in their 5th instar and ready to spin up their cocoons they will be nearly 3 1/2 inches long - nearly 30 times larger. The caterpillars feed on leaves throughout their 3 - 4 week sojourn through their instars. These caterpillars are being raised on American Sweetgum - Liquidambar styraciflua and they have their containers changed, cleaned and fresh food added every day.
Upon reaching the last caterpillar stage (5th instar) the caterpillars will stop eating, select a quiet spot and spin up a cocoon and then they shed their final caterpillar skin and become a pupa. They will remain in their cocoon until their time to emerge. Some will emerge later this year and others will most likely overwinter and emerge (eclose) next spring. The adults after emerging are incapable of eating (they literally have no mouth parts) so they set about finding each other to begin the process of mating and laying ova to start the next generation.
The adult moths will likely emerge in the morning hours and will need to hang for a short time to expand and harden their wings. The females will typically begin releasing a powerful scent that attracts the male Luna Moths to them. The males typically are in flight by early evening and the adults typically live 3 - 5 days - surviving on any residual body fat from their caterpillar stage.
These magnificent moths are quite common in NE Texas and your best chance to see them is to see them is to visit rural gas stations at night from May to October. If the gas station has bright, white mercury vapor bulbs (not the yellowish "bug" lights which do not attract moths) chances are you may run into a few of these amazing insects just hanging out.
The East Texas Natural History Collection is proud to be the first North American Host and partner with the International Journal of Entomology and Zoology Studies. The Journal of Entomology and Zoology Studies is a peer reviewed international Open Access Journal which is abstracted in various reputed databases. The Journal provides a platform with the aim of motivating students and personnel in all fields of Zoology.
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